Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.01.01

Bruce Karl Braswell, A Commentary on Pindar Nemean Nine.   Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 1998.  Pp. xvi, 204.  ISBN 3-11-016124-9.  DM 188.  

Reviewed by Richard Hamilton, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 1843 words

Commentaries on individual odes are arguably the most obvious need in Pindaric scholarship. Gerber came first, with his 1982 commentary on Pindar's most famous ode, O.1, and B. is now offering his third on one of Pindar's less illustrious. (Before this he did P.4 [Berlin 1988] and N.1 [Freiburg 1992]). At this rate, the whole corpus will be done well before the end of the 22nd century. Not that junior scholars should leap to the rescue: commentaries require deep experience of the particular text and texts in general; it is no accident that Gerber wrote his commentary when he was turning fifty and B. is now in his sixties. We might also note that even after having written two commentaries, B. took six years with this third, though the text is only 55 lines long. A quick glance inside will show why -- we can all imagine how long it would take to write the definitive note on uncompounded verbal adjectives in -tos (p.62) or -anthês compounds (p.88). The range of precise and valuable detail is impressive (as is the accompanying secondary literature, though perhaps this is too thorough -- its selective listing in 9 point type takes almost 30 pages). At the same time, emphasis is on the individual words not the poem. Literary analysis rarely rises above the level of plot summary, and many word choices, echoes, and striking phrases are ascribed to variatio or metrical convenience (e.g. pp.69, 92, 104, 117, 121, 127, 133, 136, 138; not well indexed!).

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the commentary is a thorough treatment of (a) the textual tradition (B. recollated from microfilm the major manuscripts, B and D, and a copy of B, Monacensis graecus 565), with many notes on scribal spelling (es 2, prassete 3, paidessin 4, manuei 4, orsomen 8, Amphiarên 13, kressôn 15, Oikleidai 17, hippeiois 22, kratêra 49); (b) textual cruces, B.'s most important changes being: metrically deficient v.17 is completed with Boeckh's conjecture ("the only one of the three [plausible] supplements which both conforms to Pindaric usage and is supported by the scholia"); v.33 the mss. hypokrupha is defended virtually for the first time; v.41 word division that yields Rhea's crossing ("i.e., the sea which she once passed through and which is named after her") is preferred to Ares' crossing because of references to the Adriatic as the "gulf of Rhea" in PV 837 and the "sea of Rhea" in Hesychius; v.44 hamera, "the correct form in literary Doric", is preferred to the form found in inscriptions; v.47 B. returns to Boeckh's stop-gap solution ouket' esti porsô since the widely favored prosôthen gives the wrong sense; (c) meter, where comparison with the only other monostrophic ode in dactylo-epitrites, P.12, shows that, despite a difference of several decades, N.9 "while metrically more sophisticated, nevertheless has certain obvious features in common with the earlier ode" though we are assured (without specifics) that each has "a rhythmic effect distinctive from the other" (B. is the first, in my experience, to study where the singer could pause for breath, and he offers numerous useful notes on scansion: es 2, manuei 4, aethlôn and Adrastos 9, pote 13, Kroniôn 19, anaballomai 29, aiteô 30, enti 32, Rheas 41, skopoi' 55); (d) the Amphiaraos myth, with a thorough survey of the evidence including vases that should be widely consulted despite its minimalist conclusion "we can never hope to recover more than a tiny fraction of the literary and iconographical evidence available to Pindar, and this is best left as discrete elements which may be here or there relevant to our transmitted text" (39); (e) the connotation and denotation of individual words.

It is this last category that firmly locates the commentary and commentator in the long and distinguished European philological tradition. Herewith a sample: (p.47) neoktistan "could be used of Aitna for a considerable time after its foundation (and so) gives us little help in dating the ode"; (p.49) the rare name Chromios "might have been intended as a claim to heroic kinship" with Neleus, like three contemporary aristocratic families of Athens; (p.51) "Pindar is apparently unique in his literary use of kratêsi-compounds though they are common in proper names"; (p.61) "hydronyms are often used by Pindar as a poetic periphrasis for names of towns"; (p.62) "uncompounded verbal adjectives in -tos are almost always passive or intransitive" -- 16 of the 26 uses of klutos in Pindar are passive, none clearly active (contra Verdenius, Koehnken); (p.84) elelixais means "imparting a rotary motion (helix) to it as it leaves his hand"; (p.87) aspirated Ismênos though found in inscriptions is not found in literary texts (despite its introduction by some editors in Septem); (p.88) leukanthea "white-waxing" is possibly a Pindaric creation, modeled on Homeric polyanthês and euanthês; (p.112) the asyndeton is emphatic, explaining the previous general statement more precisely, for asyndeton "should be classified in terms of the logical relation not the formal relation to its context"; (134) epidoxonis found only here in poetry, "presumably a nonce-word" (though 3x in Herodotus); (p.139) para kratêra "during the drinking" is acc. of duration of time with para (many examples cited); (p.144) themiplektois is "a hapax legomenon as are the other Pindaric compounds of themi(s)-"; (p.149) genitive singular -ou is correpted 23x in Pindar and always elsewhere in Doric lyric so the 3 times it is long in Pindar should be emended to -oi(o).

Noticeable also is the northern European tradition of detailed refutation (hence index entries such as "Bury as Pindar commentator" and "Clark as Pindar interpreter"): Poss (XI-XIII), Burkert (38 n.45), Hubbard (46), Poss (52), Jacquinod (58), Robertson (59), Hubbard (60), Stoneman (76) etc.

I was left with questions in two general areas, the function of the myth and the poetic context. According to B., the myth is about Amphiaraos, who was chosen first as an implied parallel to Chromios with his combination of foresight and military prowess (why then do we have the description of Amphiaraos hidden by Zeus "before being shamed by being struck in the back by the spear of Periklymenos"?) and secondly because Chromios had won at the games established by Adrastos, to whom Amphiaraos was connected (but this suggests Adrastos is just as important as Amphiaraos; in fact Pindar introduces the myth saying he will honor Adrastos, though he ends it with a prayer to avoid such battles with the Phoinikostoloi [B. allows no pun, despite P.1], suggesting yet a third connection for the myth, as B. later acknowledges). It is surprising, then, that B. dismisses as "purely verbal" the tautometric echo of Amphiaraos as machatan thymon (26f) with Chromios as thymon aichmatan (37). Amphiaraos' and Chromios' horses, too, might have been given some emphasis, in a poem replete with mention of horses vv.3, 9, 22, 25, 32, 34, 52 (not noted by B.). Finally, there needs to be some discussion of how Amphiaraos as model for Chromios fits with the later presentation of Hektor as explicit model for Chromios (B. says implicit but touto phengos is more than that).

As for the poetic context, B. notes (p.47) "only here does Pindar begin an ode by invoking the Muses" but does not ask why or note that Muses reappear as the last word of the poem, though he does say the concluding prayer is modelled on the Homeric Hymns (146), not saying what that might imply or noting how poorly it fits with his earlier statement (137) that "the invitation to join in the celebration and the concluding prayer for its success are no sooner spoken than achieved" (thus not allowing for perpetual song [cf N.2], hence the possibility that neothalês is proleptic is dismissed as implausible). He does note the echo ek Sikyônos 53/Sikyônothe 1 (but not nikan 55/ nenikatai 2) and explains it as Pindar's tendency to return at the end to the beginning, without asking why Pindar does this (and why he does it only some of the time).

I have some smaller questions as well: (v.2) nenikantai is a striking expression, which I would like to connect with the defeat at the center of the myth; (v.2) the text seems to say that it is Aetna (not simply Chromios' house) where "the opened doors have been conquered by xenoi" and I would like to hear that possibility discussed (for thyrai of a city LSJ cites Plutarch) as well as the violent approach and rebuff of a komos, typical if Plato's Symposium is any indication (B. later rejects Dickie's view that Hesychia implies self-restraint); (v.14) is there a pun Talaou paides (B. tell us they are the Biantidai) with the following word, biasthentes?; (vv.15f) is there really no significance to juxtaposition anêr | androdamant'?; (v.22) is the first half of this line filler?; (v.27) what is the relevance of "divine panic" to Amphiaraus' flight? Are we to assume Zeus has induced panic as well as saving Amphiaraus?; (v.32) B. might have noted W.S. Barrett's discussion of the accenting of esti when it is the first word in a sentence (Euripides' Hippolytos 426f); (v.39) the parallelism of Skamander to Heloros should include the Ismenos (all in genitive, all with "banks"); (v.41) the dismissal of the tautametric responsion remarked by Stockert of anthrôp- 41 = 6 ("only here could a sequence of three long syllables be fitted into the period") does not note the further parallelism, that it is logos anthrôpôn in 6 and anthrôpoi kaleoisi in 41; (v.43) what is the reason for "the consistently personal tone of the second half expressed in the 1st" (29, 30, 43, 54)? What does this mean about performance? (B. seems remarkably uninterested in the details of the recent debate regarding performance); (vv.44-47) P.10.22-30 seems to provide a close parallel to this passage (with eudaimôn, podôn, nearon aisan, ou pot' ambatos, broton ethnos, haptomestha, thaumastan all finding echoes here).

These are largely literary questions, some at least of which B. probably considered too speculative or too personal to warrant discussion. The indices are indicative: a 21 page index of citations and a 6 page general index whose entries reflect B's interest in myth and grammar: Amphiaraos 29x, compounds 21x, Eriphyle 10x, confusion 9x, asyndeton 7x, Adrastos 6x, Nemean Nine 5x, corrreption 3x, consonants 3x, genitive 3x, infinitive 3x. Poet ("as athlete") occurs only once.

This is a professional's commentary, written by a specialist for specialists, and so the price does not seem as exorbitant as it might otherwise (the cost presumably would have been even higher had the author not taken responsibility for formatting his manuscript). Every research library will need a copy as will any full-time Pindarists, who will already have B.'s two other commentaries, often cited to complete a note. My hope is that B. will not only continue to produce such useful texts but that he will gather some helpers and build a small commentary factory so we need not wait until 2140 AD for the task to be complete. The sooner the better for us North Americans who like to do literary analysis building on such a strong foundation.

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